Trump Removes State Department Inspector General Steve Linick

May 16, 2020
Originally published on May 16, 2020 4:37 pm

Updated at 5:36 p.m. ET

President Trump is ousting State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, extending a string of administration firings of government watchdogs.

The president sent notice of Linick's removal, effective in 30 days, to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday. A State Department spokesperson offered no reason for the change but issued a statement confirming that Linick will be replaced by Ambassador Stephen Akard, who currently directs the department's Office of Foreign Missions.

A White House official speaking on background Saturday said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recommended the move, "and President Trump agreed."

In a statement late Friday, Pelosi warned of a "dangerous pattern of retaliation against patriotic public servants."

Linick had been on the job since 2013 and had recently issued reports criticizing some Trump appointees of retaliating against career public servants.

Democrats expressed outrage at his firing. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., accused Trump of taking the action in order to protect Pompeo.

"I have learned that the Office of the Inspector General had opened an investigation into Secretary Pompeo," Engel said. "Mr. Linick's firing amid such a probe strongly suggests that this is an unlawful act of retaliation."

Engel did not offer further detail but promised to press the State Department for answers.

A Democratic aide on Capitol Hill elaborated that the inspector general's office "was looking into the secretary's misuse of a political appointee at the Department to perform personal tasks for himself and Mrs. Pompeo."

In recent weeks, the president also removed Michael Atkinson as inspector general of the intelligence community, as well as Glenn Fine, who had been named to oversee the federal government's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The Trump administration is ousting the inspector general of the State Department. News broke of Steve Linick's firing late last night. Democrats are trying to sound an alarm. Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls it part of a dangerous pattern of retaliation against patriotic public servants. NPR's Michele Kelemen has been following the story. Michele, thanks for being with us.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Nice to be here, Scott.

SIMON: How did this play out last night?

KELEMEN: So President Trump sent a letter to Pelosi saying it's vital that he have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general and that that's no longer the case with the State Department's inspector general. He did not give any reason for this. When I asked the State Department to comment, I received a statement saying that the department is happy to announce that Stephen Akard, a Trump administration political appointee at the department, will be taking over the inspector general's office. The State Department didn't even mention the longtime IG, Steve Linick, or say why he's being asked to leave. But some members of Congress - at least, Democrats - are speaking out and demanding answers.

SIMON: The Democrats contend, in a nutshell, that this firing fits a pattern. Also recently let go were the principal deputy inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, the intelligence community inspector general, the chairman of that federal panel created by Congress to oversee management of the coronavirus relief package.

KELEMEN: Right. And so, you know, I - we saw Senator Ben Cardin, for instance, who's on the Foreign Relations Committee, calling this latest one just another example of the White House efforts to purge the administration of every last independent watchdog. Those were his words in a tweet today. We don't know a whole lot, as I said, about why Steve Linick is let go. Eliot Engel, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that he's learned that the inspector general had actually opened an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, so Engle said this could be an unlawful act of retaliation.

SIMON: What do we know about that investigation?

KELEMEN: The IG's office says that it can't confirm or deny any specific investigation. The State Department wouldn't comment. But one Democratic aide told me that the office was looking into reports that Pompeo and his wife used a State Department employee to perform personal tasks. Now, last year, I should note, the - CNN did a report about security agents complaining that they had, in effect, become "Uber Eats with guns." That was a quote from that piece.

SIMON: What do we know about Mr. Linick?

KELEMEN: Well, he's been on the job since 2013. He was appointed by President Obama. He seems to be pretty well-respected. He did do a couple of recent reports about Trump political appointees at the State Department retaliating against career public servants. One of those reports blasted the assistant secretary for international organizations, a man who has - sorry - a man who has since left that job. Another report was critical of Brian Hook, who's Pompeo's point person on Iran, for his handling of a personnel matter involving an Iranian American career civil servant. So Linick was taking these allegations of political retribution pretty seriously at a time when President Trump and his allies often talk about what they call a deep state at the State Department.

SIMON: NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen, thanks so much for being with us today.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.